Driverless Vehicles and Liability

Posted by Craig F. Schauermann | Apr 11, 2022 | 0 Comments

Photo courtesy of John Thayer

We have recently written about “driverless vehicles”. For older Schauermann Thayer blogs on the subject, click here and here. In any event, one thing that still needs to be seriously looked at by the state Legislatures is: What happens when a driverless vehicle causes injuries to persons or property?

The general rule, now, is that liability attaches to negligent parties. A vehicle is NOT a “party” that the law currently recognizes.

Let's say that you are the innocent victim of a driverless vehicle. Your remedy, as of today, is to sue the billion dollar corporation that manufactured the driverless vehicle. If you sue, you will probably be transferred to Federal Court. You will have to hire engineers to deal with the issues of the cause of the crash and we can certainly bet that it will be a VERY expensive lawsuit that will be fought long and hard by the manufacturer. The costs of those experts would come out of your share of any settlement or verdict and would substantially reduce your share of the outcome.

So what can our state legislatures do? 

One thing for them to think about might be making the owner of the driverless vehicle legally responsible for the injuries regardless of whether or not the owner is “negligent”. It would be like an employer's automatic liability for the negligent acts of his, her, or its employees.

Just think of the driverless vehicle being the agent of the owner. If the insurer for the owner were to believe that the driverless vehicle was flawed in some way, he or she could sue the manufacturer of the driverless vehicle in a separate proceeding.

This is just an idea that needs to be explored before driverless vehicles take over our highways, streets and roads.

In any event, hopefully our lawmakers are looking ahead and giving this concern due consideration, as it appears that driverless cars are coming at us, whether we are ready or not.

About the Author

Craig F. Schauermann

Member.  Effective July 1, 2015, Craig Schauermann has transitioned from managing partner of the firm to an “Of Counsel” role with the firm. As a founding partner, along with William “Bill” Thayer, Craig's name will remain with the firm. Craig will continue his long history of mentorship to the firm's attorneys and contribute to the firm's active cases. You may contact him via this page, but he is not taking on new cases directly in his new role with the firm. Location: Vancouver, Washington Phone: 360-558-3766 Fax:               360-696-0583 Contact Craig Schuermann Emphasis: Before going of counsel July 1, 2015, Craig advised and advocated for his clients in personal injury and wrongful death cases for nearly 40 years. He continues to work part time with the attorneys in our office on matters relating to serious personal injuries and wrongful death. Professional Qualifications & Education: Bachelor of Arts, 1973 Washington State University; Juris Doctor degree, 1976 University of Puget Sound; Licensed to practice before all courts in the State of Washington, the Western and Eastern District Federal Courts of the State of Washington, and the Ninth Circuit and the United States Supreme Court. Professional Experience: Craig started work in Seattle as an associate with a small personal injury firm and moved to Clark County in January of 1979. He practiced exclusively after that in the State of Washington, primarily in Clark County. He was instrumental in obtaining for his clients a number of large verdicts, arbitration awards, and settlements. Professional Affiliation: Member of the Board of Governors for the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association from 1996-2001. Political Action Committee for WSAJ from 2004-2015.  Past WSTLA Eagle member for over 25 years. Past President of the Clark County Bar Association. Former Chairman of the Washington State Bar Association's Continuing Legal Education Committee. Craig has been a speaker at numerous legal education seminars. Personal: Craig and his wife are the proud parents of three children and six grandchildren. He enjoys golf, playing bridge, and traveling with his family. Areas of Practice Personal Injuries Wrongful Death Litigation Percentage 100% of Practice Devoted to Litigation Bar Admissions Washington, 1977 U.S. District Court Eastern District of Washington, 1993 U.S. District Court Western District of Washington, 1977 U.S. Court of Appeals 9th Circuit, 1994 U.S. Supreme Court, 1994 Education University of Puget Sound School of Law, Tacoma, WashingtonJ.D. – 1976Washington State UniversityB.A. – 1973 Professional Associations and Memberships Washington State Trial Lawyers Association, Member, Board of Governors, 1996 – 2001 Washington Trial Attorneys Public Forum Clark County Bar Association, Past President Washington State Bar Association, Former Chairman, Continuing Legal Education Committee


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